Oscar buzz builds for Cate Blanchett
05:00 AM, Jul 25, 2013
NEW YORK Cate Blanchett hadn’t done a movie in at least three years when Woody Allen’s script for Blue Jasmine came her way last year.
“I’d been spending a lot of time in my pajamas,” admits the actress and mother of three sons.
Her first thought? “I ate it alive.”
After all, it’s Woody Allen.
“He’s an extraordinary dramatist, aside from being a great writer. And he’s not too shabby as a filmmaker,” she says with a smile.
Blanchett, 44, has been doing a Manhattan media blitz this week, a last-minute push for Allen’s “summer movie,” as he called it during filming. The Oscar drumbeat has begun for Blanchett’s brittle and wrenching performance as Jasmine, a Ruth Madoff-esque character whose husband (Alec Baldwin) gives her a high-society New York life of riches only to have it crumble around her when he’s hauled off to jail.
“A timely tale,” Blanchett calls it.
ABC News says she “stuns” in the role. Rex Reed of the New York Observer calls Blanchett “stupendous.” Variety says she’s “dominant.” And Showbiz 411 columnist Roger Friedman writes she’ll be the “one to beat” in the best actress category. And she “could win,” he says, making her Allen’s first best-actress Oscar winner since Diane Keaton in 1978’s Annie Hall.
And how does that Academy Award buzz feel?
The controlled and lovely Blanchett, who has two best-actress nominations and a supporting-actress win for The Aviator, laughs a little.
“Um,” she says. “The horse is hardly out of the gate. There’s always many great female performances. I just hope people go see the movie.”
Allen is known for his women.
From Mia Farrow to Diane Keaton, Penelope Cruz to Scarlett Johansson, memorable female characters have become a hallmark of his work. Right now, all the attention is on Blanchett.
It wasn’t that the character spoke to Blanchett in some particular way or that she immediately saw how to conjure up Blanche DuBois and use her to play Jasmine. “No, I rarely have that thought. The first thing was just to call Woody and say, ‘Yes, if you’re offering it to me. Yes. Thank you.’ And then the panic sets in: How am I going to do this? But you just chip away at it.”
And sip away at it. She spent time having lunch on the Upper East Side for two weeks in July last year before shooting began, people-watching and drinking red wine.
“I started with the obvious: Observing women who live in that part of the world, in that environment, in those ivory towers. And then the women who have spectacularly fallen from grace. You are suddenly attuned to anything that fits into the world you’re about to inhabit.”
Although it sounds a lot like it’s the tale of Bernie Madoff, the New York financier who went to prison in 2009 for bilking billions from investors and wife Ruth’s fall from grace as a result Allen has said it’s not.
“He followed it, like I followed it, like everyone followed it, and is following it,” says Blanchett. “That’s a 12-hour miniseries, that scandal!”
Rather, she says Allen’s wife, Soon-Yi, seems to have inspired the movie. She “heard anecdotally about a particular woman whose husband was in the financial world and he ended up going to prison, and the social shame was so absolute she lost all of those connections she had two children - and ended up working in a shoe store to support herself.”
Blanchett says, “Because it’s a Woody Allen creation, you don’t want to pick someone out and plunk them in. You have to play the person he’s written.”
It’s midafternoon and Cate’s now asking for chocolate and coffee. She’s been up since dawn, chatting with Charlie Rose, doing Good Morning America and stopping by The View. Her fair skin is luminous, but not stretched too tight. She seems at ease, and although she has a publicist and hair and makeup and wardrobe people ready to spring into action around her, she takes off her high heels and is comfortable padding around a midtown movie studio office in her bare feet. She doesn’t scream diva. She’s more like fine china.
And yet, she purrs about being happily married to Andrew Upton since 1997, and they have three sons, Dashiell, 11; Roman, 9; and Ignatius, 5. Roman just had the lead in the school play, Pig Pig. She gets her iPad and proudly shows a shot of him in pig costume. “So cute!” she says, gazing at the photo.
But that’s about as techie as she gets. She can’t name a favorite app and she isn’t on Twitter. “Oh god no,” she says, waving her hand to dismiss the notion. “I’d rather live my life than record it. I record other people’s lives for a living.”
So what’s it like being Allen’s latest woman?
“Oh, he’s not loyal!” Blanchett says, waving her hand to dismiss the mere mention of that idea. “He’s already off in the South of France with a whole lot of other women.” (Emma Stone and Marcia Gay Harden are among the cast of his latest untitled project.)
At one point Blanchett calls Allen a “freight train.” At another, she says, “he’s a shape-shifter.” She explains, “Which way will he turn now? He’s made so many films that have influenced how we talk about ourselves to ourselves.”
Still, she says Allen’s not “this enigma. He’s very practical. I found if I asked him a question, he’d consider it and he’d answer it. He doesn’t want to get in the way. Often what would happen is I’d ask him a question and he’d give me insight and we’d do another take and then he’d say, ‘No, I screwed you up. It was better before. Let’s move on.’”
Allen’s films are “made on a shoestring,” she says, giving him creative control and also a “really healthy attitude toward them. If you’re on a $70 million, $250 million film, there’s a different kind of pressure. There’s a different kind of energy at play.”
She continues, “I think we all revere him so deeply that there can be a sense that we’re laying offerings at his altar. And a sacred set is not a creative set. So I think the first couple of days, everyone really wants to please Woody. And once you realize he’s never pleased, you stop trying to do that and just let it go.”
Working with Allen is “benign neglect,” she says. “It’s 100% trust he gives the actors. But if you screw up, it’s like: What were you thinking?”
Fans should not expect Bananas. Blue Jasmine is more about black humor.
“I found it hilarious and painful,” says Blanchett. “Three weeks in, Allen said, ‘You know this is a serious movie.’ But then the next day, he’d say, ‘This is absurd.’ I think he always wants it to be real.”
Blanchett says, “I think more than any other director I’ve worked with … I think we’re all obsessed with who is he really? Is he that clown, that sad clown he created? Is that him or is there something else behind him? Like Oz, who’s behind the curtain?”
The answer? “I’d do it again.”